Clinton questions Hungary's democratic credentials


BUDAPEST – US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has voiced concerns over democratic freedom in Hungary in a letter to the prime minister, local media said yesterday.

A spokesman for prime minister Viktor Orbán confirmed he had received a letter from Mrs Clinton, but did not disclose its contents.

Mr Orbán’s centre-right party scored a landslide victory in a 2010 election. His government went on to pass measures which critics say weakened institutions such as the constitutional court, and meddle with press freedom.

The letter “put in writing the things she had articulated verbally before”, spokesman Péter Szijjártó told the national news agency MTI yesterday. “The prime minister will, naturally, respond to the letter in due course.”

Mrs Clinton visited Budapest in June to hold talks with Mr Orbán and told a subsequent news conference that she was concerned about democratic freedoms in Hungary, where she said essential checks and balances must be strengthened.

Bradley Hurst, press attache at the US embassy in Budapest, did not comment on the existence of the letter, citing embassy policy about state department communication.

“On occasion we have raised concerns regarding the protection of checks and balances [on government power] and the protection of individual liberties,” Mr Hurst said, noting Mrs Clinton’s public remarks during her visit to Hungary.

The Népszabadságnewspaper reported on its website that Mrs Clinton had renewed her worries in the letter, which it said had been received on December 23rd.

Mr Orbán’s government has taken advantage of its huge majority in parliament to rewrite Hungary’s constitution and pass a series of laws that would require a two-thirds majority to be changed.

Two such laws passed, one on the central bank and one on financial stability, have caused concern in Europe and even led European Commission president José Manuel Barroso to ask Mr Orbán to withdraw them.

Mr Orbán rejected that request last week, saying Brussels could not dictate policy to Budapest.

On Friday thousands of Hungarians held a rally against Mr Orbán’s government and opposition lawmakers chained themselves to barriers outside parliament in protest. – (Reuters)